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Well this was the year I basically let the blog die. I only posted 5 times all year, and the last time was in April!

Blogging is basically dead as an art form. Few read, fewer comment. It seems the only ones still going are some sort of niche. But I’ve decided that I’d like to revive the old girl (my blog is a girl. Yours?) after all, and post sporadically about whatever I feel like. So let’s start with me getting you all caught up about last year chez the Nomad family.

2015 was a good year with lots going on. So much, in fact, that I’m going to put this into two posts. See? 2 posts in the first week. I’m off to a great start! In the meantime, here is Jan-Aug.

January: we come home from an afternoon out to find ourselves banned from the kitchen. Ilsa is applying to art schools, and one requires that she draw a bike. Since we live in Oregon where it’s cold and dark by 5, she has put the bike in the kitchen and is lying on the floor, drawing and drinking tea. We are not allowed to bump the bike. We manage to get out cheese and crackers for dinner.

don't bump bike

She got in! This was for her first choice, RISD (riz-de), officially known as the Rhode Island School of Design. We’ll get to the implications of this in September.

January also saw a friend from Mauritania visit. It was his first time visiting a Western country. A lot of things were new to him. For example, he had hoped to meet with some local officials, but really didn’t understand how far out he would have needed to schedule something like that. Seat belts were also very new to him. He was a good sport, although I know this had to be like another planet to him.

February is lost to the mists of time, which keep growing thicker with my advancing age. Seriously, I suppose we did something?

March: The twins turned 18. Ilsa always chooses cinnamon rolls for her birthday breakfast. I accidentally doubled the recipe–which makes tons even normally–so we had a million or so cinnamon rolls. The neighbours, random Iraqi friends, and of course the twins were very happy. I use the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, modified to not kill us quite so quickly (i.e. 1% milk instead of whole, half the amount of butter, etc), and with cream cheese frosting instead of that nasty muck she puts on hers.

too many cinnamon rolls.jpg

April, May…I dunno. Life. Stuff. Hiking, visits from people. Oh I dyed my hair red! I’ve always wanted to be a redhead. As I’d suspected, I looked good, but it quickly faded to orange, which didn’t look good. Also I went to Memphis as part of a blog tour for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It was a really cool time and I only managed to blog half of it, as is my wont.

June: This is where it gets interesting, as we began the Summer of The Visitors. Seriously, we had out-of-town guests almost nonstop from June through mid-August.

First of all, the twins graduated from high school.

twins grad

Donn’s family came for graduation, and his parents stayed for a week, which is always a bit like having Archie and Edith from All in the Family to stay. Happily we didn’t have to go camping this time. Donn’s sister Kris, who reads this blog, and her husband came for the first week and then decided to stay for an extra two weeks. They stay in a hotel, so they are very easy visitors. We went down the gorge, ate giant ice cream cones from Salt & Straw, ate fresh berries, and did other summery, family-type things, like going to Powells.

Elliot came home for 2 days and then left for a summer in Jordan, where he spent the summer in an intensive language program. This was a government-sponsored scholarship, starting with a day of orientation in DC. When his 6 a.m. flight was cancelled, we waited in line for several hours only to have the airline clerk tell him they couldn’t fly him out till midnight that night, which would mean he’d miss orientation. We agreed, and were leaving the airport while he called the program to let them know. “Unacceptable, soldier!” they told him. (Not really. That is just a line from a Bourne movie.) And they put him on a flight leaving at noon. How? The person working for the airline couldn’t do it. Only the government. (Cue creepy Twilight music here).

I told Elliot that someone had probably gotten bumped. He was thrilled when they actually paged a “John M Caine” while he was waiting to board. Oh, we watched the Bourne movies too often when he was younger.

elliot off to jordan

This picture was taken after his flight was cancelled and he was put on another one 5 hours later, so we took him out for breakfast. It’s still very early in the morning, which is probably why he looks so bleary.

He had a great time in Jordan. He lived with a host family and took classes and went on cultural excursions and saw ancient ruins and was tired and busy and hot and actually missed us.

July: For most of July, a friend from Morocco was here. (She’s Moroccan, but I first knew her and her family in Mauritania) We had a great time. We went hiking down the gorge, went to the coast, went downtown and ate giant ice cream cones at Salt and Straw, went to the Rose Garden and Powells, and just generally had a good time. It was her first time in America. We have now seen each other in 3 countries, and we are wondering where we’ll meet up next. Any ideas?

It was the hottest summer ever. It was terrible. We had a dry winter, a normal spring (wet and cool), and then a hot, dry summer. Sumi and I went to a lavender festival in Hood River on a day when it was over 100 degrees. Even though we lived in the Sahara desert together, we both agreed that we hated the heat.

mt hood

This may not look like drought to you, but nonetheless it was a bad year. Lakes and rivers were really low, and several Oregon counties had to declare emergencies.

At the end of July, another friend came to see Sumi. We were all in Mauritania at the same time. Michelle now lives in Kansas, from which it’s easier to fly to Oregon than Morocco. We had a whirlwind few days of it, including eating giant ice cream cones from Salt & Straw. This was a theme of the summer. Actually, it’s kind a theme anyway. Come visit! We are used to people visiting and will eat ice cream anytime of year. The lines are shorter in winter.

August: Sumi left, then Michelle left, then the next day we got a visit from some French friends of ours, a family we knew in Morocco. It was blazing hot during their visit, so hot that we couldn’t enjoy being outside, even though we took them for giant ice cream cones. We went down the Gorge to Hood River on a Friday and it was 104 degrees. The next day we went to the beach and it was 65, and so foggy we couldn’t see the water while actually standing on the beach. Obviously, Oregon hates them. I don’t know why, as they are actually very nice.

Also, we saw a seal! Seal in French is “phoque” and if you exclaim that word excitedly to children on a public beach in America, you will get some side glances.

Elliot also came back mid-August from Jordan and was actually home for 2 entire weeks. Donn and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, although we waited to celebrate properly till November. More on that later. Ilsa got all 4 of her wisdom teeth out at once and was really funny while coming out of anesthesia. Also really difficult. Pain Med Ilsa is not very nice.

bleu heure

Tintype (taken with app on my phone) of restaurant where we ate on actual 25th wedding anniversary. We are officially old now, although according to Ilsa, we have been for years. Oddly comforting, in a way. 

So in January, we got our first visitor ever from Mauritania.

beachNo, not Mauritania. This is Ecola State Park, on the Oregon coast. Where the Ewoks were filmed, where the forest planet of Endor is .

No, scratch that, that’s not true. This guy’s best friend actually came–remember?–with a group of people from all over the world. But this was the first time we knew someone was coming ahead of time, and we planned on it. (well sort of.)

We saw him in November in Nouakchott, on that trip that I’m taking so very long to tell you about. “I’m coming to America in January,” he told us. “I’ll see you then.” We gave him all our contact information. He’s a great guy, genuinely nice, a former student who’s doing really well and has far outpaced us in life.

On January 1st, he wrote me privately on Facebook, telling me he’d arrive in San Francisco on Jan 10th and come to Portland 2 days later. I wrote back, welcoming him, and asking him to send us his flight info and itinerary. He cunningly maintained radio silence. I wrote again on the 8th, 9th and twice on the 10th, since this was the only contact info I had for him. Finally on the 10th I wrote his friend back in Mauritania, who told me he was supposed to arrive in New York that day. He contacted me late that night and told me he was going to buy his ticket to Portland next day. And so he showed up at the airport about 10:30 on the night on the 12th, Monday. He had hoped to arrange several meetings with some local government officials, but they were unable to fit him in when he called them on Tuesday morning.

Things he experienced for the first time on his first trip to America:

  • wearing a seatbelt
  • Thai food
  • wearing a seatbelt every time he got in the car, no really, every single time, it’s not optional, put it on please
  • Mexican food
  • sitting next to someone who was drinking. (Mauritania is a dry country, and he had never seen someone drink alcohol before. He flew Air France. He told Donn he was afraid his seatmate would go beserk after the small bottle of Merlot. He had no idea what to expect)
  • forests
  • fish and chips
  • how to successfully put on a seat belt (clue: it doesn’t go behind your head)
  • jet lag
  • indoor heating

The weather was glorious, freakishly warm, in the mid-60s. We took him to the Oregon coast, where Donn and I walked round in shirtsleeves and he wore a thick parka that we’d loaned him. He commented on how much he liked that the sun wasn’t as warm, the light more diffused this far north.

trees at oswald

We walked through a small bit of old-growth forest on the way to the beach. He was amazed–he’d never seen trees like this before, thick and hoary, moss-covered, reaching far into the sky overhead. We all enthused about the air, so sweet and refreshing, and we all took great gulps. He commented on how great trees are–“except at night, when they can kill you,” he said. What? we said. Kill you? we said? What? we said.

Yes yes, he explained. Everyone knows that trees put out oxygen during the day but carbon monoxide at night. Um, no. No they don’t, we said. Really. Truly.

We knew Mauritanians didn’t like trees. They don’t have many of them, living in the Sahara desert as they do, and the few they have they tend to cut down. It’s common to visit a house and find the entire yard has been paved over. But we thought this was because they believe trees attract mosquitoes and because they needed the wood for charcoal.

I think we convinced him.

He also told us tales of life growing up in a small village. When he was in high school, his mother paid a local woman to serve him zrig every morning on his way to classes. Zrig is a mix of milk (usually powdered, in the city at least), water and sugar. It sounds innocuous but I never really liked it and my kids all hated it. The story he told us gave us a reason why. Apparently in parts of the country they add sheep’s urine. No that’s not a typo. Even he agreed it was gross. He said it gives a sort of astringent quality to the drink. I say it gives me an excuse to never drink it again.

On another day, Donn took him down the Columbia River Gorge, an area of breathtaking natural beauty, lush with green ferns and flowing with waterfall after waterfall. They stopped at Multnomah Falls, the biggest, and hiked up to the first lookout, along with many many other people. We’ve been there countless times, and have seen prom pictures and wedding pictures and myriad tourist pictures being taken. (aside: don’t people taking photos with tablets look silly? Remind me to never do that)

A woman and a photographer were there, and her top fell off–twice. So this was the first experience of topless photos done–and it would be done in front of someone from one of the most isolated and inhibited cultures in the world. You just can’t plan things like this. I can only imagine the stories he’s telling.

He left on the Friday, early, still jet-lagged. He is, always, unfailingly polite, but I think he had a good time. Overwhelmingly new, but good. I think he’ll be back.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who lost wedding rings.

She was happily married so it wasn’t a reflection on her secret view of her husband or anything psychologically revealing like that.  And she wasn’t an especially careless woman. True, she was organizationally-challenged, but she managed to hold onto  most things. And yet, by her 23rd year of marriage, she had gone through 4 rings.

The first ring wasn’t lost. Bought on a college student budget for a thin young woman, it was a circlet of gold topped with a small twinkling diamond. 5 years later, pregnant with her first, she found the ring no longer fit her and decided to wear her husband’s.

She lost it gardening. Cleaning out flower beds in Portland, OR, involves a lot of heavy clumps of clayish soil snaked throughout with a dense mat of grass roots, and after a strenuous afternoon, she was pretty sure the ring was somewhere in the middle of a large yard debris container.

No worries. Her mother had recently passed on to her a ring that had belonged to her great-grandmother. It was thick Welsh gold, 22-caret, and she loved it. It was a little big at times but seemed to fit just fine at others, so she didn’t worry about it and wore it happily. One fine crisp autumn day, she took her 3 children (Elliot, then about 3, and the twins in their stroller) to a nearby park, where she and Elliot had a leaf fight, scooping up handfuls of bright colourful leaves and dumping them over each others heads, shrieking. When she got home, she realized her ring was gone.

Her husband had just gotten home, and he asked her to describe where exactly the leaf fight took place. She told him (near the swings, there’s this little concrete area and it’s to the side of that). He went back in the failing light and, miraculously, managed to find her ring.

Amazing! She was very grateful, not to mention pretty darn ecstatic to have not lost a family heirloom.

A few years later, the family moved to Mauritania. It’s a hot desert country with not a lot to do, and family quickly got into the habit of driving about 15 km north of town and going to the beach on Saturdays. The woman was always very careful to remove her ring before going swimming, as she knew it would float right off. She enjoyed swimming, even though the current was rough, and then drying off and eating snacks under the large Mauritanian tent they set up for shade.

One week, she had finished swimming, dried off, put her ring back on, and was relaxing with a book, when her husband came in from surfing. “Come try surfing,” he begged her. She said no, but eventually he persuaded her. And, fatally, she forgot to take her ring off. It was lost to the pale green waters of the Atlantic.

This time there was no other ring to be had, and it wasn’t like the family just had extra cash to buy one. She went years without a wedding ring until, one Christmas, her husband surprised her with a gorgeous gold band with 3 diamonds that he’d bought and had someone else bring across the seas. It was such a pretty ring that she frequently got compliments on it, especially as the diamonds were unusually sparkly.

This ring lasted the longest (so far!) of all the wedding rings. She got it Christmas 2005 and, although it frequently fell off when she was doing laundry or sometimes if she gestured strongly, she always noticed and found it straight away.

Last Tuesday, she took advantage of Oregon’s lovely summer weather and excellent berry options and took an Iraqi friend of hers strawberry picking. They ranged far and wide, filling their boxes with the smaller sweet Hood variety as well as the bigger juicier Bentons. As is customary when picking berries, our heroine stooped over the small plants, lifting the stems with her left hand to find the ripe red berries hiding underneath.

After they’d finished, the 5 year-old Iraqi child wanted to play in the play area, so she and her friend sat on a picnic bench and relaxed. They fed the baby berries until her little face was red with smushed fruit and smiling happily. At one point, the woman went to wash her hands at the handy little sink provided by the berry farm, and there she noticed…her ring was gone.

She went back to search the fields but she knew it was pointless. She wasn’t even sure what rows she had picked on. Her friend felt terrible, but the baby was tired and sunburned, and the woman knew it was time to go home. She told the people up front.

“I don’t think Donn will buy me any more wedding rings,” she told her friend as they drove home from the berry farm. “And really, he shouldn’t. Perhaps I could have wedding earrings or a wedding bracelet instead!” Although that wouldn’t work. For one, you can’t sleep with jewelry. For two, you’d have to explain to people, and you wouldn’t bother. It’s not a universally-recognized symbol.

Later that afternoon, her husband and she went back to look, and they both agreed–it was hopeless. There was no way to find that ring! Her only chance was for someone honest to find it and turn it in. Days passed without a phone call though.

The following Saturday, she went again with the same friend to pick more berries. This was because the friend’s son, age 7, had been heartbroken that he didn’t get to go to the farm with his Aunty Elizabeth and pick berries, even though he categorically refuses to eat berries or pretty much any fruit or vegetable. She promised, so back they went on Saturday. “Please don’t wear ANY jewelry,” her friend told her. And later, “Maybe we will find it today!” “Maybe,” the woman agreed, but she really had no hope.

As they were leaving, she asked the guy behind the counter, “Any chance anyone turned in a wedding ring?” eyeing the discarded sunglasses and pacifiers lined up behind the cash register. “I don’t think so,” he said, and then…”Wait! Is this it?”

It was.

So…how long do you think she’ll be able to hold onto it this time?

berries

 

 

 

 

 

First of all, you should know that in Portland, OR, snow is a rare and wondrous thing. We are not quite Atlanta, we do have snow plows, but it really doesn’t happen very often. Snow days are precious, rare things. We used to get one good snow a year but it’s years and years and years since it’s properly snowed. Admittedly I was off living in NW Africa for a large chunk of those years, but we’ve been back since summer 2010. That means this is our 4th winter, and in all these years we haven’t had a proper snowstorm. My poor deprived children had never had a snow day in their entire lives.

I saw a meme on FB, during the “Polar Vortex” that swept the entire countryside EXCEPT for Portland, OR, which had temps like those in Florida. There was a meme on FB with Oprah giving everyone a snow day except for “Portland, OR; you get cold rain.”

But on Thursday we got a real live winter storm. It was the best we’ve had in absolutely ages. Snow started around 11 a.m. and it snowed constantly for over 24 hours. We had tiny flakes, huge ones, blizzard ones with wind, soft gentle dreamy ones. We were very happy.

IMG_0243Isn’t that so pretty? Don’t you think that should happen more often?

I sent Donn to the store, about a mile away, to get firewood. Took him an hour and a half, and he’s a good driver. This was due to 2 conditions. One, there were icy hills. Anyone without chains or snow tires will have trouble on icy hills. The second condition was something that happens to Portland drivers when that first flake is spotted actually sticking to a blade of grass. (We get plenty of snow every year, but it never sticks. It just snows for an hour or two and then stops, breaking your heart every time)

Portland drivers morph into one of two types when those first flakes start sticking. The first lot turn into 15 year old boys, the kind with access to whiskey and car keys, the kind whose goal is to turn doughnuts in the ice. The second lot become 90 year old grandmothers, the kind who drive 5 miles an hour while peering over the steering wheel. There is no one left in between. You can imagine the driving, with only teens and grannies out there.

155th and weirNote: I didn’t take this picture. It’s from a local news channel, and is an intersection near our house.

So it was basically awesome. We put chains on the Volvo and conquered the streets but mostly we stayed home, built fires, cooked and ate rather too much (it was cold! I needed the calories!). We went for lots of walks, to the mis-named Summer Lake.

IMG_0285

Yes, that’s Summer Lake (behind the tree) in winter. Why do people name lakes such stupid names? The park is about a mile or less from our house, and then the hike around through the woods and over the bridges and around the lake is about another mile. It made a lovely walk, and put me right in the mood for more hot chocolate!

IMG_0270Donn looked very dashing. We realized we are sorely lacking in wintery gear. We have very few hats and warm scarves and mittens and gloves, and we are seriously lacking boots. Ilsa and I had to share a pair, which would have been all right except that her feet are a little smaller than mine. They kept my feet warm and dry and slightly cramped, but it was okay. Donn had to just wear his regular shoes.

IMG_0250

When we came back from “Summer” Lake, the freezing rain was starting. The entire house was covered in a sheath of ice. Here’s what it looked like through the windows:

IMG_0298

Sometimes ice storms send tree limbs crashing, downing power lines and cutting electricity. So I was very happy that things stayed warm inside the house. We built another fire, ate muffins, drank hot drinks, and were pretty happy to have another 2 days to sleep in. It was fun to have time to watch the Olympics, although apparently I am the only person in the house who wants to watch them. Luckily I can pull rank.

Aside: anyone else totally sick of Olympic commercials? I am! My “favorite” is the one that compares winning a gold medal and being a top athlete, fearless, with biting into a chicken mcnugget (go bold with habarnero ranch!). Uh yeah. They are totally connected.

IMG_0300

I do love ice storms, especially if no one dies and the electricity stays on. Thanks to the layer of ice on top of the snow, which made for some really fun crunchy walks, everything was still cancelled for Sunday and Monday. By Monday night, the rain had returned and the roads were slushy but passable.

And now it’s all gone and the temp is about 50 degrees F today. Warm (relatively) and rainy. Everything is back to the greens and browns that typify winter round here. But we basically had 4 days off and I got absolutely nothing done. Just wanted to gloat a little bit. How was your weekend?

…because seriously, who has time to write or read an entire year in review? Let’s just do a month, shall we? That’ll be plenty.

This month I:

* Got a Christmas tree, along with most Americans and a surprising number of Iraqis. They tend to decorate rooms with coloured lights year-round, so it makes sense they’d enjoy hanging even more lights, not to mention stockings. I got given a music box Santa that plays “Silent Night” at a demonic speed–seriously, faster even than the Chipmunks. But I digress.

We live in Oregon, near to the edge of the Urban Growth Boundary (which I adore. Cuts down on sprawl). I’ve mentioned how I’m 10 minutes away from fresh berries in the summer; that also equals 10 minutes away from a plethora of Christmas tree farms. We were on our way to one, where a friend’s son was working, when we saw the sign for $10 Nobles. “Let’s check it out,” we said, so we drove over hill and dale to a very large farm where they apparently haven’t quite worked out the whole economy thing yet, although they’ve  been open since the 50s at least. A very charming 8-year-old explained it all to us. “Welcome folks!” he started out, and Ilsa and I exchanged glances of pure joy. He was so cute!

Our choice was simple. We could select our own Noble, cut it down ourselves, and let them shake it and bind it. This would cost, for an 8-10 foot tree, about $100. Or, we could go over to where some trees they’d cut themselves just an hour ago were lying on the ground, and pay $10. But, they cautioned, they wouldn’t shake it for us. We were on our own.

The choice seemed simple to me. So we got ourselves a large, 10 foot or so, Noble tree for $10. I love Oregon.

e and tree

Here it is on the car. I haven’t mentioned that a friend backed into my car recently. It’ll be fixed soon.

tree on car

In addition to very reasonably-priced trees, this farm also had free hot chocolate, some very fat goats and donkeys in a petting zoo (Abel at the top of his lungs: “I wish Mauritanians could see how fat these animals are!”), and Santa. I forced my children to sit with Santa for a picture. Forced is the word, yes. But I will be kind to them and not post the picture I took. Instead, here is one of Abel decorating:

photo (5)

And one of the angel on the top.

photo (6)

* Hosted a party for over 250 Iraqi refugees and yes, it was totally crazy. This is what happened. Donn and I said, “Let’s have a Christmas party for our friends.” Then one of his friends said, “Can we invite the whole community? We’ll help do the food.” And we said yes, and asked our church to loan us a room, since our house is ample for a family of 5 but not really for 50 times that.

Planning this party took some time. I enlisted a lot of people to help. A friend went shopping with me, others helped me put goody bags for the kids together. Others donated funds, and one lady offered a ham, which we turned down since most Iraqis are Muslim. A group of high-schoolers volunteered to do crafts with the kids, and another group volunteered to help with clean up afterwards. It was still totally crazy.

Donn and a friend read the Christmas story while in the back, people discoursed happily at full volume and the kids ran in circles around the tables for sheer joy. It was chaotic, but I pictured a time when Jesus walked the earth, and I imagine that the crowds who listened to him weren’t all in rows like Sunday morning. Instead, I picture kids running wild, shouting and chasing each other, and the mothers in the back leaning in to each other for a comfortable gossip, while only those close to him could actually hear what he said. And everyone had a fantastic time, and there was food for all, and presents for most. I was most impressed with the high-schoolers who gave up their Friday evening to help, just to be kind–especially the ones who vacuumed. I was really happy I didn’t have to vacuum. It was a huge success. Not only was it the largest gathering of Iraqis in Portland, several told me,  but we also set the record for most cigarettes smoked at our church!

photo

* The day after the party, I woke up feeling rather as if a cement truck had run over me. But it wasn’t to be a day of rest–the inlaws were  coming for Christmas, and arriving that evening, and thanks to the party I’d had no time for prep. So instead it was a day of shopping and cooking and cleaning. They were supposed to arrive at 11:30 but instead their flight came in at 2 a.m. They showed up at my house around 3:30 and it was after 4 before we were in bed. Next day was busy though, as was the next and the next. They were here a week and left on Saturday, and I’m still tired. My goal for 2013 is more sleep.

We had a lovely Christmas though. The day itself was mellow. We ate breakfast around noon and supper around 7, and in between we opened presents and listened to music and relaxed.

One day we took them down the Columbia River Gorge. It’s ages since I’ve gone there in winter, and I’d forgotten how much I love it when the trees are bare and the air is frigid, and the pastel light speaks of sunset throughout the day.

photo (3)

The inlaws enjoyed it, although they didn’t neglect to let me know how cold they were. They were always cold, poor things, their blood thinned from years of living in Southern California. In vain did I point out that the temperature was actually lower in their desert town than in our damp and windy city.

photo (4)

I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures and remind you that I took them with my phone.

How was your month? Year? And what are you most looking forward to in 2013? Me, I’m hoping to figure out this whole life/work/family/rest balance thing, and get more sleep. Wish me luck!

HAPPY 2013!!

Two years ago we moved into this house. This morning, as I was drinking coffee, I realized this and thought it would make a good blog post. All sorts of ideas and connections ran through my mind.

They’re all gone now.

It was a long day. Ilsa was home sick, and I came home to check on her and somehow took about 3 hours off this afternoon and was sick with her. After a nap, I find myself feeling better. The headache is mostly gone. I guess rest is actually good for us after all! This is a brilliant concept and one I find myself hoping to explore more.

They say, these experts on international moves and third-culture-kids and people like that, that is takes 2 full years to really adjust and settle. They’re right. The first year everything is new; the second year you look for patterns. After that, you’re okay.

I spent the summer picking berries as often as possible, although the selection in our freezer is still paltry as we head into winter. I adore fresh berries–especially blueberry, raspberry, and any form of blackberry (i.e. marionberry, loganberry, etc) We live in the boring suburbs in a cookie-cutter house, but thanks to the brilliance of Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary, we live about 10 minutes from rural farmland, acres and acres of farms stretching out along the contours of the rolling hills to the west of us, blue with distance and sun. I would snatch a free hour, run out to a farm, come back with 5 pounds of raspberries for jam, or blueberries for cobbler, always with the idea of freezing for winter, but somehow not always achieving that goal.

It was a gorgeous summer–the days long and light-filled. We haven’t had rain for months now, very unusual for the Portland area. Fall has been filled with hot afternoons and crisp mornings and nights that are downright cold, so that it’s pretty much impossible to dress appropriately.

My Iraqi friends call this “Mountain Hood.” Locals say Mt. Hood.

If you are wondering, these are the things that help me adjust to a place. I need to know the patterns of afternoon sunlight in a room, or where the maples glow on sunny days, or the way to take to the mechanic that takes me through farmland and green hills and vines stretching up them into the distance. I need a riot of sunflowers and dahlias planted by the road, or the tangle of roses at all the freeway exits. I need the feel of the rain, of the heat, of the clattering moths outside a front door or the glow of a firepit giving a rather ugly and neglected backyard a certain allure. The place I had the hardest time adjusting to was Mauritania, because it took me years to see the beauty of it. Even now, I feel that if they could just turn the sun down by about 20%, it would be so much nicer.

I grew daffs and tulips and roses and cosmos. I planted a dogwood.

We bought that vase in France. It’s been all over with us. It’s very unsteady and I’m happy it’s survived.

Elliot had a deadline for the outline for his Extended Essay (I put it in caps cuz that’s how he refers to it. It’s a 4000-word essay that he’s doing on the Battle of Stalingrad. I think he’s already smarter than I am, but don’t tell him. It’d go right to his head) and needed to go to the big library, the one downtown that takes up a city block. I didn’t let myself even go in because I knew I would see a few books that I really really wanted to read and frankly, I already have a stack I need to read for 5 Minutes for Books. Instead I dropped him off, parked the car, and sat in the Park Blocks for a lovely, lonely hour. The Park Blocks are a block wide and run right through the center of downtown, from Portland State on the heights down past Burnside at the bottom of a long sloping hill. They are planted with elms and lined with benches and statues to various notable people, and when I was a student I used to do most of my reading homework out there (except when it was raining. This is Portland). I was utterly content, sitting in the sun with the occasional golden leaf dropping like a gift, reading a very good book. I turned off my phone and enjoyed it.

 this phone camera has no depth of field….

Two years ago, I had no idea I would be in this place. But here I am. I’m doing fine. How are you doing where you’re at? Is it at all what you pictured? I’m guessing no, because it never is.

So we went to the rhododendron gardens with an Iraqi couple. The sun was shining. We wandered round for a while. Here are some photos:

Even though it was getting a little late in the season, there were still plenty of blooms, although it was probably even better two weeks earlier.

So I’ve lived in Portland a long time (total), and yet this was my first visit to the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens. I knew where they were; we used to live not that far away. But for some reason, I never went. Rhodies aren’t my favorite flower, and that probably prejudiced me. But of course, there’s so much more. Lakes and ponds and waterfalls (this is Oregon; we don’t lack water), not to mention bridges and decorative trees and lots of birds, from geese to songbirds spiraling high into the sky.

I really enjoy the couple we were with. They’re older–both mid-70s–but they have a great sense of adventure and style. They are unabashedly enthusiastic about their new home. “We wish we had come here years ago!” they told us. They’ve admitted they were afraid to come. Huge movie enthusiasts, they learned of American culture from Hollywood, and they pictured us as a land where everyone is packing heat, a place where one must pay attention walking down a sidewalk in case of car chases spreading over the curb, cities where buildings explode daily, in slow motion. They didn’t know what to expect!

I actually kind of love this. There’s so much misinformation going both ways between Americans and Arabs. Americans see a woman wearing a headscarf walking down their suburban street and they’re afraid she might spontaneously explode. Arabs are afraid to come here because they worry that life will reflect our movies, that we’re violent and dangerous or that their kids will turn into super-obnoxious brats who never listen to their parents. (Although, that’s really a case of the pot calling the kettle black…just sayin’)

Afterwards they insisted on taking us for a late lunch. They insisted on paying. Donn tried to sneak the waitress some cash, but they caught him out and scolded the waitress–they’d already told her they were paying! She was amused.

When they were younger, they traveled all over, took long car trips from Iraq to Europe, camped out and drove round France and Germany and Italy. They collected souvenirs from their trips, all of which they had to leave behind. But they don’t complain; instead they buy things at Goodwill and garage sales and proudly show me their new finds with each visit.

We sat outside and ate sandwiches and pickles, and they looked around at the trees lining the street. “It’s so clean here,” they said, and I laughed. We were just coming off several days of rain. “That’s because we are constantly washing it,” I joked. They talked of days-on-end of sandstorms, how their son in Iraq tells them on skype of how bad things are. I’m sure they miss him, but they smile at me, happy to be here, to be enjoying another new adventure.

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